Sunday, May 12, 2013

A classical find

Western high culture reached a peak of nihilism in the mid-twentieth century and it was at about this time that the tradition of classical music was ruptured. The decades following 1950 were barren ones; if you loved classical music you had to go back to music that was composed earlier.

But there are signs of a revival. One of the most curious examples is that of the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. He spent his early career as a jazz musician; according to his wikipedia entry his breakthrough into classical music happened in 1995 when he was already in his fifties.

If you listen to his music it's as if the great rupture never happened. He has picked up the tradition and carried on with it.

That's not to say that there aren't issues. He has written much sacred music but from within the "interfaith dialogue" perspective. So, for instance, in his work Stabat Mater there is a section involving an Islamic call to prayer. To my ears it just doesn't gel with the rest of the work.

Here is an abridged version of the Stabat Mater; in my opinion parts of it are very good:

Another work he is well-known for is the Benedictus from The Armed Man:


  1. So, for instance, in his work Stabat Mater there is a section involving an Islamic call to prayer

    That's hilarious. Islam bans most musical instruments. So the intent of his "interfaith dialogue" was to offend members of the Religion of Perpetual Offense?

  2. Yes, the thought occurred to me as well that the gesture might not be well received.

    But even if that weren't so, it's still an issue. Some of the best classical music is a call to the higher spirit of Western man. It therefore jars if, in the middle of this, there is a call to Muslim prayer. It can only disrupt or confuse the effect of the music.

  3. Something funny about art.

    There's a lot of filth in art brought on by modernism (e.g. modern art) and post-modernism (e.g. post-modern art). A toilet can be deemed art in that setting? Yep. Even a blank piece of paper with just a dot in it is supposedly a work of "art" (I remember reading one that sold for millions). Recent music such as rap and hip-hop, plus others, are just horrendous. Over sexualized, violent and crude.

    Of course, the Renaissance has some of the best art around, but I think it's because they focused so much on emulating pagan Graeco-Roman ideals. When they abandoned that, they veered into enlightened secular modernity and all of its mores. There has been some "dark age" in art for quite a while.

    In fact, the recent good workings of art in the past centuries were brought on by eccentric, weird or "crazy" people. People who didn't fit in society. That's of course not saying that one has to be from a "bad background" to have good art (that's not true in general, as the genre of rap can show) but that in some instances the bad apples who would be sent to Soviet Reeducation camps are the ones who produced the exceptional instances of wonderful art.

  4. It's worth noting that Hitler didn't like what he referred to as degenerate art or music, which he saw as corrupted by Jewish influence.

    Hitler also appreciated Ancient Greek and Roman art, seeing it as an uncorrupted expression of European culture.

    Karl Jenkins was a member of the group Soft Machine towards the end of that band's career when they had none of their original members left. He plays on the 1981 album, Land of Cockayne.

  5. Anon,

    Yes, Hitler recognised modern art as degenerate. But Hitler himself promoted a kind of political modernism in basing politics on the will rather than the good (albeit a collective will embodied in a leader rather than the mutually self-respecting individual wills as found in liberalism). This proved more destructive of Germany's cultural heritage than anything the artistic moderns did.

  6. Actually, one could argue that the Classical Music tradition moved out of music made for popular consumption and into film and video game soundtracks (which still require traditional instrumentals to generate mood and convey a story.) Granted, much of the music made for movies and video games these days is crap, but the good stuff is every bit as good as that which was made for opera or any other popular stage entertainment of its day. It's the height of snobbery to think that "old" classical music fits into some kind of rareified uber-good, uber-meaningful category when it essentially served the same purpose then as classical music made for movie and video game productions does today.

  7. Amethyst said...

    "Actually, one could argue that the Classical Music tradition moved out of music made for popular consumption and into film and video game soundtracks"

    The same thing happened in the visual arts. As modernist painting celebrated misery, self-hatred and squalor artists who still believed that art should be about beauty and truth moved into other fields like commercial art and set design for movies. I regard Natacha Rambova's sets for the 1921 Salome movie to be one of the treasures of 20th century art.

    Even the pin-up art of the 50s is superior to the rubbish churned out by the modernists.